BEST-selling author Heather Morris didn't know what to expect when she sat down with Lale Sokolov.
From the stories he told her, piece by complicated piece, he would reveal his time in Auschwitz and the story behind Morris' now award-winning novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
Morris detailed how the historical fiction novel came about in Warrnambool on Sunday to help raise money for Water East Timor.
"I was sitting down for coffee with a friend who said their friend's mother had just died and the husband was looking to find someone tell a story to," she said.
"A week later I met Lale Sokolov.
"It took several months for him to stop telling a factual, clinical account of the Holocaust.
"Journalists have asked me how long I interviewed him for, and I said I never interviewed him I just sat and listened to him.
"I never took notes, I had no recorder, and this went on for months.
"He would keep going to say something but would stop himself.
"His two dogs were always a constant presence with him and one day one of them let me throw the ball and he said: my dogs like you, I like you, you can tell my story."
That story was how Mr Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1942 and fell in love with a girl he was tattooing at the concentration camp.
That girl was Gita Furman, who later became his wife.
"He broke down telling the true horror and evil he has experienced," Morris said.
"When Gita died he wanted to go too, but then something changed and he wanted to live to get that story told."
The New York Times Best Seller is being turned into a six-hour mini series by the BBC.
"He told me he met a young girl with a shaved head and said I knew I would never love another," Morris said.
"The book has what people have called the 'Hollywood ending' of them finding each other but it's all true.
"The thing about writing someone else's story is when they tell you not to write something you don't, I will take to my grave things no-one will ever hear about."
To an attentive crowd at Cafe Lava on Sunday, Morris spoke about her difficulty deciding on a genre to approach the story with.
Initially she intended to write a screenplay for it to be turned into a feature-length film which failed to grow legs, then the memoir style was too restrictive and finally historical fiction enabled her to bring in periphery characters into the story.
"It was about finding the balance between the evil perpetrated around them and all the things these boys and girls would do to support each other in Auschwitz," Morris explained.
"That's why I simply told story, it's in his language, it's how he talked.
"Holocaust survivors around the world have written to me saying thank you for telling my story."
Lale Sokolov never lived to see the book but saw many drafts over Morris's shoulder over the years before it was published.
Morris said a team of professional researchers were tasked with verifying and fact-checking claims made by Sokolov.
"Around 80 per cent of the documents from Auschwitz were destroyed but we managed to find five documents with his name on it," she said.
"He never lived to see the book.
"I've copped a lot for writing this not being Jewish and getting a few things wrong.
"But it is not the story of the Holocaust, it's a Holocaust story. By focusing on one man's journey I made it relatable.
"If I wrote it as a memoir couldn't put characters like Gita in, and that just wasn't going to happen."
The WET fundraising event in Warrnambool raised more than $4000 to provide communities in East Timor with access to safe, clean drinking water.
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